A Hypothetical Question On Church And State

December 1, 2009

If God commanded you directly by voice from heaven to vote to make wearing red t-shirts illegal (say it’s on the ballot, California referendum style), and you became convinced that God had actually given you such a command, would you vote accordingly?  Just to secure the hypothetical, let’s say that you were with your closest friends and family, including the ones you trust most and the ones who are most skeptical in character, and each of them affirms that he/she heard God give you the command, and you are provided whatever other forms of proof you need to be certain that it was actually the Creator of the Universe who gave you the command (dew on the grass but not on the blanket, a staff turning into a snake, burning bush, water into wine, and whatever else you want).  Again, would you vote according to the command?  (You need not assume that it’s the Christian God giving you the command; just some ultimate creator.)

If your answer to the question is “yes,” it seems to me that you are therefore willing to enforce your religious convictions in a political manner upon others, consistent with your (practically undeniable) belief in God and His command, regardless of whether anybody else had any insight into your knowledge of the command obtained through direct revelation.  It probably wouldn’t much matter to you that others happen to disagree about whether you had been given the command, or even if they thought you were crazy.  You were given a direct insight from God and a command, and you chose to obey.  (Note: this is only because God hypothetically commanded you to, and I am not setting forth the argument–at least not in this post–that in reality, God has in fact commanded you to vote in any particular way on red t-shirts or any other issue.  That’s for another post.)

If your answer to the question is “no”, then it seems you aren’t really all that willing to obey God (or else you doubt your sanity).  You place your politics or personal judgments ahead of God Himself, which is to say that you are ultimately faithful not to God, but to the state and/or your own fallible judgment.  In short, you are deliberately and knowingly unfaithful.

Now replace “red t-shirts” with abortion.  Maybe God has commanded people to oppose abortion, or maybe He hasn’t, but if a person in good conscience believes that God wants him or her to politically oppose abortion, he or she is perfectly entitled (perhaps even obligated) to do so, even on religious grounds.  The appropriate response to that position for the pro-choice person is not to spit on the freedom of religious conviction and the free exercise thereof by demanding that people keep their religion to themselves, but rather to discuss whether God actually does require them to oppose abortion.  And that will bring us squarely to a religious discussion about politics.  Suddenly the lines don’t seem so clear. 

I came up with this little hypothetical at one minute shy of midnight, which is rather late for me.  Perhaps I’ve committed some fallacy.  But I’m very curious how one would respond to my brief argument (one conclusion being that if your religion requires certain political action and you reject, even oppose, that political action, you deny your faith).

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5 Responses to “A Hypothetical Question On Church And State”

  1. Pat Cahalan Says:

    This seems at least somewhat addressed to me, so now that I noticed this post, I feel obliged to respond.

    > If your answer to the question is “no”,
    > then it seems you aren’t really all
    > that willing to obey God (or else you
    > doubt your sanity). You place your
    > politics or personal judgments ahead
    > of God Himself, which is to say that
    > you are ultimately faithful not to God,
    > but to the state and/or your own
    > fallible judgment. In short, you are
    > deliberately and knowingly unfaithful.

    This conclusion doesn’t, strictly speaking, follow.

    First, I would probably doubt my sanity. That aside…

    Second, I would then most likely doubt the veracity of the evidence I’ve been presented. I don’t believe God exposes his works in this way; or to be more precise I would assume that it was much *more* likely that a non-supernatural being was pulling a smoke and mirrors (or drug-induced hallucination or whathaveyou) on me.

    Third, Abraham and Isaac aside, I don’t believe that God would choose to test humans in this way. That belief would reinforce the doubt above; I simply cannot believe that the Creator would do such a thing.

    But, that’s just me. It’s entirely possible that I could become convinced, in spite of my current belief that I wouldn’t, simply because one can’t predict how one would respond to a miracle.

    > Maybe God has commanded people to
    > oppose abortion, or maybe He hasn’t,
    > but if a person in good conscience
    > believes that God wants him or her
    > to politically oppose abortion, he
    > or she is perfectly entitled (perhaps
    > even obligated) to do so, even on
    > religious grounds.

    I highly doubt that God has commanded anyone to oppose abortion. However, your point is perfectly valid… if someone does honestly believe that God wants him or her to politically oppose abortion merely on His (or Her) say-so, they are entitled to do so. Theologically speaking, I find it doubtful that I would really buy anyone’s argument that they understand the Will of the Almighty quite so clearly. If the Bible teaches you nothing else, it teaches you that humans take God’s commandments with a large slice of leeway leaning towards their own interpretation.

    Note, however, that the freedom of religion as stated in the Constitution is quite clear; Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

    So, while the people are well within their rights to do whatever they wish, a Congressperson who has sworn an oath to protect the Constitution cannot ethically support the establishment of religion, *even should he/she be a member* of that religion. Said Congressperson is violating his or her oath (unless, of course, they can truly state that they object on non-religious grounds as well as religious grounds, but correcting for your own confirmation bias is difficult in such a scenario).

    As an aside, it is, of course, possible to be morally compelled to violate your own ethics. Just as it is possible to feel ethically compelled to violate your own morals. We do, however, insist as a society that you take your lumps when you do so, which is why a lawyer who found out his client was guilty of multiple murders still can’t dump his client without censure, even should he believe that he is morally compelled to do so.

    All that said, I think this is a false dichotomy. The implication is that one can have a severely devout belief and the only recourse is to seek to establish that belief in the law. I don’t believe that this is the case. I believe that there are several avenues of enforcing, codifying, suggesting, promoting, etc., social behaviors. The law is only one such tool, and in many cases it is a marginal one.

    I honestly do believe that in this particular case, there are many better methods of discouraging the behavior that is regarded as disagreeable or abhorrent. More effective (especially in the long run), far less prone to unintended consequences.

    Some abortions will be performed even should it be illegal locally. Some abortions will be prevented that could not be prevented *any* other way, should it be made illegal. Some unintended consequences will occur, should it be made illegal.

    But the “abortions of convenience” can be likely removed or lessened just as easily by non-legal avenues as they can be by legal ones. If all of the money that was ever collected and spent on political campaigning for anti-abortion laws had been spent on teenage education, single mother support, adoption programs, sex education, etc., the anti-abortion crowd would have saved many more lives than the zero they’ve saved by trying to make abortion illegal.

    Not to mention the fact that there are numerous cases of both political parties using abortion as a wedge issue to get people to vote for candidates that are not truly representative of the rest of their beliefs or attitudes, or against their own self-interest… often when those candidates had little actual intention of overturning Roe v. Wade. Yet another unintended consequence…


  2. First, I would probably doubt my sanity. That aside…

    Second, I would then most likely doubt the veracity of the evidence I’ve been presented. I don’t believe God exposes his works in this way; or to be more precise I would assume that it was much *more* likely that a non-supernatural being was pulling a smoke and mirrors (or drug-induced hallucination or whathaveyou) on me.

    Third, Abraham and Isaac aside, I don’t believe that God would choose to test humans in this way. That belief would reinforce the doubt above; I simply cannot believe that the Creator would do such a thing.

    Why Abraham and Isaac aside? What you really mean is that sometimes God does test humans this way. And you’ve got way more examples than Abraham and Isaac if you believe the Bible. You’ve got Moses and a burning bush, Gideon and a dry fleece, Elijah’s fire from heaven, and oh, Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. A belief in miracles is a necessary component of the Christian faith. They may be rare, but if you’ve ruled them out in advance and basically made it impossible for God to perform a miracle for you (you’d just insist you were insane or being tricked), you are hardly even close to anything that could be described as “open-minded.” It reminds me of when Jesus couldn’t perform miracles because of the lack of faith of His audience. It wasn’t that Jesus lacked the objective power to perform a miracle, it was that it would be impossible to perform a miracle for someone who would never believe the miracle happened. You wouldn’t see it as a miracle, you’d see it as smoke and mirrors. So what good is a miracle for you?

    So, while the people are well within their rights to do whatever they wish, a Congressperson who has sworn an oath to protect the Constitution cannot ethically support the establishment of religion, *even should he/she be a member* of that religion. Said Congressperson is violating his or her oath (unless, of course, they can truly state that they object on non-religious grounds as well as religious grounds, but correcting for your own confirmation bias is difficult in such a scenario).

    That Constitution also includes an equal protection clause, that everyone must receive due process and equal protection under the law. If you believe that an unborn person is a person, your oath to the Constitution requires that you enforce equal protection. What protection is more important than the protection of life?

    Moreover, harkening back to our previous discussion, your understanding of “religion” is a twist of the term, and woefully contrary to the constitutional understanding of the term. “Religion,” as used in the Constitution, means denomination. One can believe that unborn humans are persons without regard to any particular sacred text. To me, that means one can be Pro-Life without respect to religion. Yes, one must make moral, metaphysical, and philosophical judgments, and if you personally want to call those judgments “religious,” then I am fine with forcing “religion” on anyone. That’s what law requires in the first place. Without moral, metaphysical, and philosophical judgments, no government has any “right” to tell me what to do, any more than you as an individual have a right to tell me what to do. The law depends on morality for its force. If you call that religious, then law is inherently religious.

    Either way, there is nothing to distinguish a pro-life position from the belief that wanton murder should be illegal. “Should”, as used in that sense, appears to be a religious concept in your view, because it’s a metaphysical (non-empirical) idea. So we can make the metaphysical assumption that we “should” err on the side of caution and protect anything arguably human life, and always prohibit the intentional killing of anything arguably human and arguably alive. You don’t need religious text for that. If the moral “should” is a religious judgment, then so is the underlying basis for every law.

    All that said, I think this is a false dichotomy. The implication is that one can have a severely devout belief and the only recourse is to seek to establish that belief in the law. I don’t believe that this is the case. I believe that there are several avenues of enforcing, codifying, suggesting, promoting, etc., social behaviors. The law is only one such tool, and in many cases it is a marginal one.

    That certainly was not the implication. I hold lots of devout beliefs that I dare not establish (i.e. compel) in law. Many of my devout beliefs require, in themselves, that they not be compelled (I have a devout belief that Christianity is true, but I wouldn’t force people to become Christians by law because I also have a devout belief that people become Christians in freedom, not by force).

    However, in noting the “several avenues of enforcing, codifying, suggesting, promoting, etc., social behaviors”, you missed the most important one: punishing.

    I honestly do believe that in this particular case, there are many better methods of discouraging the behavior that is regarded as disagreeable or abhorrent. More effective (especially in the long run), far less prone to unintended consequences.

    This flaw in your view of law has corrupted the remainder of your comment. Law is not about “discouraging behavior.” It is about justice. Law is not for the people in power to enforce their mere preferences on everyone else. Were that the case, I might argue that the government should be pro-life because I want a world without abortion. But my desires shouldn’t be relevant. You don’t care about my social preferences any more than I care about yours.

    Criminal law is for punishing behavior that must be punished, that deserves civil punishment. An underlying foundation is the common good. It is in the common good to punish that which deserves to be punished by society. Likewise, in civil law, it is just and in the common good to award property to rightful owners, and to enforce contractual agreements between parties.

    Thus, it doesn’t much matter if a certain punishment (or lack thereof) is a better or worse deterrent. That’s a side-effect. Either an action deserves a certain punishment or not. It is scary to think that our society would make people means to an end by punishing them in an effort to discourage certain behaviors by others because we don’t like those behaviors.

    Your assertion that “Some abortions will be performed even should it be illegal locally” is a non-sequitur. Some robberies will happen even if they are illegal. So? Robbery must be punished. Some people will rob anyway because they are thieves. And we would do well to punish those thieves, not because we don’t like thievery, but because thievery merits punishment. Not capital punishment, or the most effective deterrent, but an appropriate and just punishment. Let the punishment fit the crime (rather than a deterrent motivation, or societal desires to make the criminal an example).

    I do agree with your remark regarding politicians using abortion as a political pawn rather than approaching the matter with conviction. Really, I’d prefer that the courts overturn Roe v. Wade and return the issue to the states. Let the people decide democratically. I wouldn’t want unborn lives to continue to be lost in, for instance, California, but I’d prefer a structure where we could rally a vote and seek to change minds. It would give the issue the political attention it truly deserves and take away the powers of the courts. I mean really, who came up with the idea that we would decide our most important issues by getting an opinion from a lawyer with lifetime tenure? That is categorically not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

    Finally, you display a complete lack of information when you state that “the anti-abortion crowd would have saved many more lives than the zero they’ve saved by trying to make abortion illegal.” First, you have no way whatsoever of confirming this allegation. Second, the “anti-abortion crowd” has opened shelters for women and opened their homes to single parents.
    http://www.nurturingnetwork.org/aboutus.html
    http://www.pregnancyresourcecenter.com/
    http://www.wpclinic.org/
    Third, efforts to make abortion illegal have had the valuable effect of a lot of testimony in legislative bodies as to the dangers of abortion and the remarkable lack of care that one receives in an abortion “clinic.” You have no idea whatsoever how much good this testimony may have done for whoever was listening.

  3. padraic2112 Says:

    > They may be rare, but if you’ve ruled
    > them out in advance and basically made
    > it impossible for God to perform a
    > miracle for you (you’d just insist you
    > were insane or being tricked), you are
    > hardly even close to anything that
    > could be described as “open-minded.”

    Provide me a suitable framework for judging what ought to be called “a miracle”, please. By direct implication, you’re saying I’m close-minded.

    Perhaps that’s the case, granted (it’d be the first time anybody’s hit me with that accusation, but there’s a first time for everything).

    However, without having any sort of method for evaluation, I can just as easily (and uncharitably) turn this around and claim that you’re a loony and hopelessly un-objective and disconnected from reality and believe in flying ethereal goblins who leave no empirical evidence of their existence (a standard and just as disingenuous ploy of the militantly atheist). Probably just as much of an exaggeration as your accusation that I’m close-minded.

    Without some sort of substance behind a belief in the possibility of miracles, how is it any different from attributing lightning to Zeus?

    How do we recognize a miracle? What cuts the mustard? Why is one act potentially a miracle, and another not so? How can we claim any sort of causal understanding of any phenomena if we can always play the “God did it” card? Why bother studying anything? Heck, why bother with natural law philosophy either?

    > What you really mean is that sometimes
    > God does test humans this way.

    No, actually, that’s not what I mean. I don’t believe that God tests humans this way (examples out of the Bible to the contrary; I’m not a biblical literalist, and don’t take the book as Gospel, pun intended).

    Any being that forced a logically closed loop as a test of belief would be insane by any standard of rationality. The Abraham and Issac story is precisely this sort of dilemma:

    * God says always obey God.
    * God says thou shalt not kill.
    * God says kill somebody.

    No matter what the subject does, he is violating God’s stated commands, if you believe that God’s commandments are absolute. This isn’t a test of belief, it’s the worst sort of ultimatum dilemma, one with no exit scenario for the moral thinker. There’s not even a credible way to judge the behavior of the person being tested… if Abraham refused to kill his son, citing one of the Ten Commandments, what would God do? Praise him for following that Commandment, or damn him for failing to follow the Commandments?

    Or maybe it’s a story about how the law doesn’t cover all cases?

    > That Constitution also includes an
    > equal protection clause, that everyone
    > must receive due process and equal
    > protection under the law. If you
    > believe that an unborn person is a
    > person, your oath to the Constitution
    > requires that you enforce equal
    > protection.

    Okay, that’s a fair point. Which leads to another question: what do you do when the document you’ve sworn to uphold can be interpreted in multiple ways? That’s probably worth several discussions itself. But more on that in a second…

    > You don’t need religious text for that.

    That’s a fair point, but I mentioned that. You can have a moral conviction without relying upon a particular religious teaching. It’s possible for the two to be in sync.

    > If the moral “should” is a religious
    > judgment, then so is the underlying
    > basis for every law.

    In practice, this is very often the case. That doesn’t mean that all laws are bad, but they’re often passed for the wrong reasons.

    > you missed the most important one:
    > punishing.

    Back to the part about equal protection: now you’re not talking about equal protection. You’re talking about punishment.

    > Law is not about “discouraging behavior.”

    Your words.

    If this premise is true, then any deterrent effect is not germane to discussing the rightness of a law.

    The law is good which punishes injustice, and any other law is not justifiable.

    Then you must establish what constitutes injustice. You argue that we ought to consider the ending of any human life to be unconscionable, that it is an injustice. Others argue that allowing the government the right to dictate the actions of a woman is unconscionable, and that *that* is an injustice.

    Moral dilemmas exist, my friend. The law may itself cause injustice. By your own proposition, any law that causes injustice would itself be unjust.

    You’re now stuck in exactly the same logical ultimatum dilemma that we talked about above: you’re in a closed logical loop. There is an injustice. The law must punish those who commit these injustices. The codified law also causes an injustice.

    You just choose to exit the loop by deciding that one of the injustices is greater than the other, or that the other one doesn’t exist at all… but you don’t really have a solid standard for making that decision. When freedom conflicts with safety, who wins? Why? Why in one case, and not another? How do we judge?

    Isn’t it actually a safer course to say that there is a possibility for injustice in either case, and it’s better to not codify this into the law, for fear of establishing an injustice?

    I’m not claiming to have the answers here. I’m arguing that you don’t have them either, just a belief that you’re right.

    > Without moral, metaphysical, and philo-
    > sophical judgments, no government has
    > any “right” to tell me what to do, any
    > more than you as an individual have a
    > right to tell me what to do.

    I think this is the crux of our dilemma.

    You believe this to be a truism. That every law ought to be grounded in moral, metaphysical, or philosophical judgments.

    I agree.

    I just don’t happen to agree that your particular philosophy should have any more weight than any other particular philosophy.

    > Finally, you display a complete lack of
    > information when you state that “the
    > anti-abortion crowd would have saved
    > many more lives than the zero they’ve
    > saved by trying to make abortion illegal.”

    I stand by that statement. I’m also starting to believe that it’s becoming less productive for me to comment here, because you attribute ignorance when I simply don’t have the time to draw out every single possible nuance in every statement I make (hardly fair, given that you don’t respond to every nuance in every comment I make, and I don’t call you an ignoramus for doing so).

    Yes, I know there are organizations that have shelters. I know that there are organizations that have opened their doors to single parents. That is, in fact, precisely the route I believe to be the most productive. Oddly, given what you’ve said here, I’d expect you to argue that this is *a waste* of money in comparison to trying to pass anti-abortion laws, as it does not punish the wicked.

    Testifying to poor medical care does indeed provide benefits. I do not gainsay either of those activities.

    > you have no way whatsoever of confirming
    > this allegation.

    Do I really need to?

    It does not change the fact that millions of dollars in political contributions and advertisement have been spent promoting the restriction of abortion through the legal system. Must I find citations for this, really? Do I need to find supporting evidence showing the dollar value of monies spent on mitigation efforts?

    Not only have none of these avenues provided a positive result, they are in fact prevented from having any result by Roe v. Wade. It is literally pouring money down a hole.

    Promoting, life-affirming commercials, like the ones in the recent Superbowl? Might have value, I don’t know, and honestly couldn’t say (although I’d immediately reject any characterization from you that we must assume that they *do*, either). Political contributions to pass state laws that clearly won’t pass a court challenge? That *is* wasted money, by any assessment.

    Better to put the funds into the two other avenues of attacking this problem.


  4. Miracles.

    Provide me a suitable framework for judging what ought to be called “a miracle”, please.

    That’s a really good question. Your question led me to a bit of research, and now I really want to read C.S. Lewis’ book, Miracles.

    I found a fascinating study guide for the book online, and the questions therein are excellent. http://www.cslewis.org/resources/studyguides/Study%20Guide%20-%20Miracles.pdf
    (A review of the book: http://www.christianbooksreview.com/christian/Miracles/8747).

    According to the study guide, C.S. Lewis says: “I use the word Miracle to mean an interference with Nature by supernatural power.” I think that’s a fair enough description. However, that description is broad, and assuming that definition, I would argue that we experience miracles every day, and maybe even every moment. The existence of morality, free will, and the concept of “ought” are miracles, for they could not have been produced by mere Nature.

    In any event, I suppose we could say that we know a miracle has “happened” when an event occurs that could not have occurred by Nature alone. However, other miracles might happen even where there appears to be a natural explanation, or there might be an occurrence where we do not know we have experienced a miracle (say, an angel appears to you as an ordinary human being and does not reveal that he is an angel). Additionally, there may be other occurrences where a rational man would conclude a miracle occurred even if there is a possible (but unlikely) natural explanation.

    If a voice from a cloud spoke to me and read my mind and told me facts about myself that no other human could possibly know, and then gave me a command, I am perfectly justified in believing that a miracle occurred even it’s *possible* that somebody is using Hollywood special effects and completely guessing about my thoughts and the unknown facts. In fact, at that point, I’d argue it’s irrational to believe that a miracle did not occur. To deny the miracle, one must refuse to believe the evidence and the best explanation and instead believe an overwhelmingly silly explanation just to remain comfortable in the denial of one of the possible (and best) explanations. That really isn’t any different than any kind of fundamentalist, religious or otherwise.

    By direct implication, you’re saying I’m close-minded.

    Perhaps that’s the case, granted (it’d be the first time anybody’s hit me with that accusation, but there’s a first time for everything).

    However, without having any sort of method for evaluation, I can just as easily (and uncharitably) turn this around and claim that you’re a loony and hopelessly un-objective and disconnected from reality and believe in flying ethereal goblins who leave no empirical evidence of their existence (a standard and just as disingenuous ploy of the militantly atheist). Probably just as much of an exaggeration as your accusation that I’m close-minded.

    If you told me the latter, it wouldn’t bother me or offend me in the least, and certainly not as much as my suggestion apparently bothers you. The reason your comical comment wouldn’t bother me is because I know for a fact it’s wrong. I make no judgment as to why you find my “implication” so offensive. By close-minded, when I use the term, I simply mean that one has ruled out a possibility without considering it or the evidence for it, and that one would never consider it because one would deny reality itself before he would consider it. Am I close-minded? On some things, like the assumptions that I exist, that objective truth exists, and that the law of [logical] non-contradiction holds true. It wasn’t intended as an insult, more of an alert. I think you’ve foreclosed one of the possibilities without giving it due (and serious) consideration.

    How can we claim any sort of causal understanding of any phenomena if we can always play the “God did it” card?

    I don’t understand this. Sometimes the evidence points to a miracle and sometimes it doesn’t. One is free to assert whatever he wants, whether the “atheist card”, the “Christian card”, the “I deny reality card”, the “I must be insane card”, or whatever “cards” you want. Meanwhile, instead of playing cards, I’ll be examining the evidence and trying to follow it where it leads…

    People can explain phenomena in different ways in every case. And in every case, some people are right and some people are wrong (or perhaps everybody is wrong). I don’t believe the “God directly did it” card is always right, nor do I believe the “it could’ve happened without God’s intervention” card is always right. I try to follow evidence and make reasonable conclusions. You are free to do what you wish. I think you should follow reason and evidence, and I believe each of those points to the miraculous in certain cases.

    Without some sort of substance behind a belief in the possibility of miracles, how is it any different from attributing lightning to Zeus?

    I don’t believe lightning came from Zeus because there is no convincing evidence (whether eye-witness testimonial, physical, scientific, historical, or expert evidence) for the proposition that a being named Zeus ever existed or that lightning has any logical relationship to the actions of Zeus, whoever that is.

    Additionally, I don’t really need a belief in the possibility of miracles to discover evidence of miracles. Someone might have no idea what a miracle is, so a “belief in the possibility of a miracle” couldn’t even occur in advance of discovering one. A person might disbelieve in miracles, but upon seeing convincing evidence of a miracle, decide that believing in miracles is more rational than doubting one’s sanity, denying the best explanation of the evidence, or refusing reality.

    God, Logic, and Commands.

    I don’t believe that God tests humans this way (examples out of the Bible to the contrary; I’m not a biblical literalist, and don’t take the book as Gospel, pun intended).

    Any being that forced a logically closed loop as a test of belief would be insane by any standard of rationality. The Abraham and Issac story is precisely this sort of dilemma:

    * God says always obey God.
    * God says thou shalt not kill.
    * God says kill somebody.

    No matter what the subject does, he is violating God’s stated commands, if you believe that God’s commandments are absolute. This isn’t a test of belief, it’s the worst sort of ultimatum dilemma, one with no exit scenario for the moral thinker. There’s not even a credible way to judge the behavior of the person being tested… if Abraham refused to kill his son, citing one of the Ten Commandments, what would God do? Praise him for following that Commandment, or damn him for failing to follow the Commandments?

    First, your contortion of Scripture has led you far astray. I’d deny the truth of the Bible too if I accepted the contradictory construction you’ve put forth. I’m sorry to say this, but you don’t understand the Fifth Commandment.

    “Thou shalt not kill” is a mis-translation of the Hebrew, and also an over-simplification. The correct translation and meaning is “thou shalt not murder.” Obviously, the commandment doesn’t mean we can never kill anything. We can kill animals, eat them, and use their hides for clothing. We can kill insects and animals that invade our homes. For that matter, we can kill humans who invade our homes with intent to kill us. Why? Because none of these are murder.

    There is more than one instance of God commanding humans to “kill” than just Abraham and Isaac. He directly commands the Israelites to kill the Canaanites through military force. He commands capital punishment of murderers among the Israelites. He commands that humans kill animals and sacrifice them. But these commands do not contradict the Fifth Commandment. Those killings are not “murder.”

    Once again, I find the Catholic Catechism helpful (and again, I’m not Catholic; I take truth from wherever I find it):

    2258 “Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end: no one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”

    Only God is morally justified in destroying an innocent human being. However, God can order us to do so as His agents, because we do not then act for ourselves, but for another. We can kill at His discretion while still recognizing that “God alone is the Lord of life” because it is His decision, not ours, to kill (we do not “claim for ourselves the right directly to destroy an innocent human being”). We are not usurping God’s place as “the Lord of life.” We can also kill non-innocent human beings where the human being’s non-innocence has warranted it and God permits it (e.g. in self-defense, in defense of others, in just wars, in punishment of the crime of murder).

    Thus, there is no necessary contradiction here, only misunderstanding. This is not “worst sort of ultimatum dilemma, one with no exit scenario for the moral thinker,” because your premise, that God has ordered us not to kill in any circumstance, is incorrect. God’s command not to murder innocent human beings stands as absolutely true and uncontradicted because killing at the discretion of God is not murder, just like killings in defense of others are not murder.

    That said, if I’m a juror in a capital case and someone raises the “God told me to do it” defense, he’d better have some awfully convincing evidence that God did, in fact, order him to do so. If God didn’t provide the man such overwhelming evidence (and I’ve never seen that happen, and don’t expect I ever will), then apparently God is ok with allowing him to go to jail, because I think God expects people to follow the evidence where it leads. The God of the Bible makes it a regular practice to provide people reasonable evidence, even though He also commands that we trust Him in faith. Faith can and should be based on reasonable evidence. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/

    Jurisprudence.

    Which leads to another question: what do you do when the document you’ve sworn to uphold can be interpreted in multiple ways? That’s probably worth several discussions itself.

    More than several discussions, but an entire law school course. Jurisprudence was my favorite law school class. It was an elective. In my law school of over 1,000 students, our jurisprudence class had less than twenty students, and it was the only section of the course offered that semester. I’m not kidding. Very few care about the philosophy of law anymore, even among lawyers, and that’s not a good thing for our society.

    There is no simple answer to your question, other than “it depends.” In general, it depends on the law, the type of ambiguity, the person or body that pronounced the ambiguous law in question, the original understanding of the text, and concepts underlying the terms used. In law school, they don’t even bother to call the Constitution a “document.” It’s more of an “idea.” Law school Constitutional Law classes very rarely discuss specific analyses of the constitutional text. Rather, one reads treatises, commentaries, and cases concerning what the Constitution should mean. I got an A- in my first Constitutional Law class, and I used the Flintstones cartoon as an analogy in my final exam. Again, I am not kidding. There is very little respect accorded to the actual document of the Constitution, unfortunately.

    I believe the Constitution should be interpreted according to the historical meanings of the words and concepts at the times they were used. To the extent that leads to problematic or undesirable results today, the Constitution should be changed, not ignored. Most judges, lawyers, legislators, and presidents just ignore it.

    And just so you know, if the Constitution was really to be followed as a document, the incorporation doctrine would not exist, Roe v. Wade would never have even been brought in a federal court (it would’ve been a state court case, applicable only in Texas under the Texas constitution), and we’d be discussing whether abortion should be legal or illegal in California, not in the entire U.S. The federal government was never intended to be involved in that type of law-making.

    You can have a moral conviction without relying upon a particular religious teaching. It’s possible for the two to be in sync.

    Not only possible, but necessary. Moreover, it’s exactly what the natural law theorists teach.
    https://thenaturallawyer.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/the-natural-law-explained/

    If the moral “should” is a religious judgment, then so is the underlying basis for every law.

    In practice, this is very often the case. That doesn’t mean that all laws are bad, but they’re often passed for the wrong reasons.

    Not often the case–always! And it doesn’t mean that any laws are bad. I don’t think I’m being clear enough. I am saying that every law rests on a moral foundation–that one ought to obey the law. Thus, if morality=religion (and I don’t think that premise is correct), then all law is religious, and that is ok because if law couldn’t be religious (in this broad sense) then we couldn’t have law. So, here is my conclusion: *if* you believe that morality is necessarily religious, then you must either embrace laws founded on “religion” or else abandon the concept of law altogether. The only other option is “might makes right,” or legal positivism, which one is perfectly justified in disobeying whenever one can get away with it.

    On the other hand, if you concede that law must rest on morality and that morality can exist apart from religious teachings, then you must also accept that one can believe that abortion is immoral (apart from what the Bible says) and that it should be illegal (without regard to religious revelation). Thus, your argument that one cannot make abortion illegal without resorting to religious belief is false, since one can deem abortion immoral without resorting to religious teachings. And that is all I’ve been trying to demonstrate for months now.

    Incidentally, I’m not sure it’s “wrong” or “bad” to have a law based on a religion. There are lots of laws that we probably wouldn’t have apart from religious revelation (e.g., a standard five-day workweek, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion). Your assertion that laws founded on religion are passed “for the wrong reasons” is, in my view, unjustifiable.

    you missed the most important one: punishing.

    Back to the part about equal protection: now you’re not talking about equal protection. You’re talking about punishment.

    Law is not about “discouraging behavior.”

    Your words.

    If this premise is true, then any deterrent effect is not germane to discussing the rightness of a law.

    I mis-spoke. Punishment is the necessary foundation of any criminal law. However, there may be more than one just punishment. One might choose one just punishment over another equally just punishment because it is a better deterrent, but one can never choose a deterrent punishment that is unjust (e.g., over-punishment), nor can one assign an unjust under-punishment just because no deterrence is necessary or effective. Some people (especially conservatives) term this non-deterrent punishment as “justice for the victim,” but I don’t see it as justice for the victim, but justice for the perpetrator. He needs to be punished. It’s good for him and good for society. (Cue up an excellent discussion about capital punishment, which would definitely lead us off-course.)

    As I’ve mentioned before, C.S. Lewis’ essay on criminal punishment provides the right analysis here, and my views owe much to him. http://www.angelfire.com/pro/lewiscs/humanitarian.html

    Moral dilemmas exist, my friend. The law may itself cause injustice. By your own proposition, any law that causes injustice would itself be unjust.

    You’re now stuck in exactly the same logical ultimatum dilemma that we talked about above: you’re in a closed logical loop. There is an injustice. The law must punish those who commit these injustices. The codified law also causes an injustice.

    You just choose to exit the loop by deciding that one of the injustices is greater than the other, or that the other one doesn’t exist at all… but you don’t really have a solid standard for making that decision. When freedom conflicts with safety, who wins? Why? Why in one case, and not another? How do we judge?

    Any law that mandates injustice is certainly unjust. I’m not sure that any law that “causes” injustice (in a but-for manner of causation) is unjust. Sometimes a just law can cause an injustice incidentally. If abortion is made illegal, then some people might kill the legislators who made it illegal. “But for” the law prohibiting abortion, the murder of the legislators would not have happened. But that in itself doesn’t make the law against abortion unjust.

    I’m also not sure the law must punish every injustice. A child’s cheating on a school test is certainly “unjust,” but hardly worthy of punishment through criminal law. However, I’m quite sure that murder requires punishment. If murder isn’t an injustice that must be punished, then I’m not sure what is.

    And with respect to “exiting the loop” by saying that an injustice “doesn’t exist at all,” well, I suppose the important thing is not to determine whether one is exiting a loop, but whether a loop even exists. If an injustice “doesn’t exist at all,” there is no loop and no reason to guard against the mythical injustice. We might as well put up walls to protect against unicorn invasion.

    When freedom conflicts with safety, neither automatically wins over the other. That’s not where the inquiry starts. The death penalty for thieves would certainly make us safer from thieves, but it would directly interfere with the freedom to steal! Are either of those “facts” remotely relevant to whether we ought to punish theft, and what punishment is just? Of course not. There is no necessary victor in the alleged battle between freedom and safety. Both are coincidental to the pursuit of justice and the common good, and both are hopefully the pleasant result.

    In my opinion, if you begin the quest for good laws with a battle between freedom and safety, you aren’t going to find good law at all. You’re looking in the wrong direction.

    Isn’t it actually a safer course to say that there is a possibility for injustice in either case, and it’s better to not codify this into the law, for fear of establishing an injustice?

    Possibility 1: abortion is the unjust murder of an innocent human being.
    Possibility 2: it isn’t, so forcing a person to bring a non-person to birth (a non-person who at some point before or after that becomes a person) is an unjust assault and battery (got a better crime label? kidnapping? Wrongful-life?).

    Isn’t the “safer” course to guard against the possibility of millions of murders rather than the possibility of millions (but not as many millions) of assaults? It doesn’t even seem to be a close question.

    You have a problematic understanding of legal and moral neutrality. Inaction does *not* equal neutrality. Thus, a refusal to “codify this into the law” is actually a codification of the converse, that the killing of innocent unborn human persons/organisms/beings is privileged–the law will actually protect the killing by preventing other people (say, the father) from interfering in the killing. Slavery laws weren’t neutral, either. If the law didn’t codify any anti-slavery provision into the law, but permitted it to happen, and also declared theft illegal and judges deemed “property” to include human beings, could we say that the law was neutral to slavery? Of course not. The law protected slavery even if there was never any written “codification” of it. It was absurd for anyone to say that the law was neutral to slavery because it simply allowed it to happen. A slavery-neutral law is a pro-slavery law, and an abortion-neutral law is a pro-abortion law, like it or not. There is no neutral.

    Knowledge.

    I’m not claiming to have the answers here. I’m arguing that you don’t have them either, just a belief that you’re right.

    Oh, I beg to differ. You clearly think your views are right. You believe them. I believe in my views. We disagree about a lot of things. At most, one of us is right (where our views are contrary). I do claim to “have” the answers, and so do you.

    “Knowledge” is a correct belief formed with good reason. I claim to know that abortion should be illegal. Sure, I might be wrong. But I claim to know it, not merely believe it. You are free to disagree, and claim that you know otherwise, or that you know that I’m wrong. But it is neither prideful nor arrogant to claim that one knows something, whether about morality or about math. One might have more or less confidence in some beliefs than others, and morality and religion are usually places where confidence waivers somewhat, but a correct belief formed with good reason is knowledge, so it is possible to know that one is correct about matters of religion and morality.

    I know I’m right, but I suspect you would claim to know otherwise. 🙂

    Legal Relativisim?

    Without moral, metaphysical, and philosophical judgments, no government has any “right” to tell me what to do, any more than you as an individual have a right to tell me what to do.


    I think this is the crux of our dilemma.

    You believe this to be a truism. That every law ought to be grounded in moral, metaphysical, or philosophical judgments.

    I agree.

    I just don’t happen to agree that your particular philosophy should have any more weight than any other particular philosophy.

    Whoa, I had no idea you believed that. That certainly is the crux of our debate then. When you said (before this post) that you thought law should have some relationship to morality, I assumed that you must believe in objective moral truth. Apparently you don’t. This deserves an entire new post, if I understand you correctly.

    But just to make sure I’m not jumping off the deep-end and misunderstanding you: it seems to me you are saying that no particular philosophy (not just mine) should have “any more weight” than any other in forming law. To me, that means you don’t believe in an objective moral truth, or objective standards to which the law must aspire. Accordingly, in your view, there is no particular way the law “should” be, no content that it “should” have. Have I stated your beliefs correctly?

    If I have stated your beliefs correctly, I will address the topic in a new post, because I think it’s that important.

    Ignorance?

    Finally, you display a complete lack of information when you state that “the anti-abortion crowd would have saved many more lives than the zero they’ve saved by trying to make abortion illegal.”

    I stand by that statement. I’m also starting to believe that it’s becoming less productive for me to comment here, because you attribute ignorance when I simply don’t have the time to draw out every single possible nuance in every statement I make (hardly fair, given that you don’t respond to every nuance in every comment I make, and I don’t call you an ignoramus for doing so).

    By a “complete lack of information,” I don’t mean that you’re ignorant, I mean it’s impossible for you (or me, or anyone) to know. You don’t know everything that has happened in the past, and you certainly don’t know the future legal landscape (nor do I). Part of the abortion legal battle has led to the enacting of parental consent laws. There’s no way for either of us to know how many parents have convinced their daughters to carry children to term. Let’s say that abortion one day becomes illegal, based on all of the efforts of those currently waging the legal battle. That would mean that the money being spent now, at this stage of the legal battle, is contributing to that eventual victory. And that would mean that the money being spent now is saving millions and millions of lives. There is just no way for you or me to know that one way or the other, absent supernatural revelation, or simple patience.

    Just so you know, you are one of the smartest people I’ve ever come across on the internet. You’ve driven me to research and re-evaluate many of my beliefs and arguments. I don’t have the energy to answer every point put to me on the internet, and I’m guessing you don’t, either. Arguing with you is exhausting! (In a good way.) I pick out the points I think are most important, and even still, look at how long my comments turn out (this one may be a record for me). Again, in the point above, I wasn’t saying you were ignorant, I was just saying there is no way to know, so your statement was without foundation (even if it might be right, though I certainly don’t think it is).

    I do not view you as an enemy. I view falsehood as the enemy, and hopefully we are allies in exposing falsehood and gathering truth, even if we reject the other’s ideas as to what those are. Sometimes I can be more stern than I ought to be, but please understand that for me, it’s about the ideas, not about the people propounding them. As a wise person once said, “we should be egalitarian about people and elitist about ideas, never vice-versa.” I fully intend on being tough on ideas. I do not intend to drive you away. It’d be awfully lonely around here…

    Not only have none of these avenues provided a positive result, they are in fact prevented from having any result by Roe v. Wade. It is literally pouring money down a hole.

    I’ve heard this argument before, but when you say these efforts are “prevented” by Roe v. Wade, that’s incorrect, and actually quite contrary to every liberal law professor’s approach to the development of law. Frankly, the suggestion is belied by the entire legal history of our nation. If you had met the NAACP leaders who brought the Brown v. Board of Education case (which overturned the “separate but equal” justification of segregation) before it was decided, would you have said, “don’t bother, that effort is ‘prevented’ by Plessy v. Ferguson” (the Supreme Court decision that established the “separate but equal” doctrine)? I doubt that you would have. Bad cases get overturned all the time. And rest assured, Roe v. Wade is a bad case that even the most liberal legal scholars have given up on defending. It’s unjustifiable under almost any legal approach, except maybe critical feminism, which really isn’t even worth our time.

    Promoting, life-affirming commercials, like the ones in the recent Superbowl? Might have value, I don’t know, and honestly couldn’t say (although I’d immediately reject any characterization from you that we must assume that they *do*, either). Political contributions to pass state laws that clearly won’t pass a court challenge? That *is* wasted money, by any assessment.

    Like I said, there’s no way to evaluate this now, but in any event I disagree with it. Once Roe v. Wade is overturned—and it will be—then will you agree with me that spending all that money was worth it, and that it accomplished something? Some of the state laws that were declared unconstitutional might then have force (depending on how the state treats it). Your assertion that such laws are “wasted money, by any assessment” can only be described as false, clairvoyant, or a lucky guess, depending on how the future plays out. I’m thinking it’s false.

    If you want to know what end the pro-lifers are fighting for, and why they keep tirelessly fighting, I’d like you to rent a secular movie about the slave trade in England. It’s called Amazing Grace. http://www.amazinggracemovie.com/castcrew_wilberforce.php It’s the story of William Wilberforce, who spent years in the British Parliament fighting the improbable, up-hill battle to end slavery. He started out as the only man fighting that battle in Parliament, and he faced loss after loss (not to mention ridicule and mockery) before he started to get any kind of momentum. Great movie.


  5. Additionally, on neutrality, and the reason to fight against all odds in the name of what’s right…
    https://thenaturallawyer.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/jfk-on-the-topic-of-neutrality/


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